3 August 2015

Osvaldas Balakauskas: Concerto for Oboe, Harpsichord, and Strings

The first composer I thought I should introduce everyone to, is a figure who holds the same kind of importance in Lithuania as Maxwell-Davies holds in England. Born in 1937, Osvaldas Balakauskas has been an influential figure in Lithuanian music since the middle of the 1960s. After studying in the Vilnius Pedagogical Institute before moving to Ukraine to study with Boris Lyatoshinsky at the Kiev Conservatoire. His time in Kiev was extremely influential on his work, it was during this time he was able to indulge in his loves of Xenakis, Stockhausen, Messiaen, and Webern. Between the years of 1988-1992 he was a member of the Lithuanian Independence Movement (Sąjūdis). After this time, he became one of the first ambassadors for Lithuania after regaining independence. He served as ambassador in France, Spain, and Portugal. 

The defining feature of O. Balakauskas, is the clash of serial techniques and tonality. He does this with his signature technique, which he calls, dodecatonality. This technique, has a multitude of implementations. If a composer were to use these ideals on a 12 tone row, Balakauskas's technique could approach this in two ways:

  1. By building a twelve tone row which implies traditional tonal harmonies, i.e. C, Eb, G, G#, E, B, Bb, F, D, F#,A,C#.
  2. Or by layering a tone row with with transpositions of itself to produce, tonal harmonies, i.e. the above row C, Eb, G, G#, E, B, Bb, F, D,F#, A, C#. Could be layered with a minor 3rd and a fifth. Eb, Gb, Bb, B, G, D, Db, Ab, F,A,C,E. and G, Bb, D, D#, B, F#, F, C, A, C#,E,F#.

As can be seen, the original tone row, it is built up of two major chords a tritone apart, and two minor chords a tritone apart. In this particular example the layering produces the first three notes of the row in the opening chord. What this allows the composer to do, is seamlessly shift harmonies in constantly surprising shifts in a way that is surprising, but always feels rather right.

Obviously, the above example is a mere introduction to the technique and O. Balakauskas himself was able to take the technique to really profound and wonderfully constructed ways. The best way to introduce someone to a musical technique is to show musical examples. Which brings us onto the Concerto for Oboe and Harpsichord. Written in 1981, this three movement concerto is one of his most conventional concerti. It is also one of his most approachable works. The interactions between the strings and the two soloists is lively and light-hearted. The second movement is a beautiful movement which sees the Harpsichord sitting back while the oboe sings its heart out. The final movement is highly rhythmical ending the concerto in a flourish. 

Information gathered from the followings sources:

Osvaldas Balakuaskas Profile, Music Information Centre: http://mic.lt/en/database/classical/composers/balakauskas/#bio

Osvaldas Balakauskas - Balakauskas: Concerto Brio for Violin and Chamber Orchestra/Ludus Modorum/Piano Concertino, BIS

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